It’s Thanksgiving and I Have Been Changed

I started a new job 10 weeks ago and it has changed me. I have been welcomed into the most intimate spaces in families’ lives and I will never see the world the same again. What started as a volunteer gig I did occasionally a few years ago has become the most satisfying career of my life at age 54. I am beyond grateful.

It seems like a pretty simple, basic job until you factor in the unpredictable human condition. I greet children and their families at a medical rehab for traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries every morning and accompany the children throughout their busy days of therapy. It takes courage and grit, what these children and families are going through. And I get to be the gentle, comforting face (behind a mask in a pandemic!) to offer them support.

When I started, all the details of things to remember were terrifying. Here are these parents lugging tiny children into a medical facility with wheelchairs, walkers, feeding tubes, blood sugar monitors, protective head gear and any number of other devices they need for survival. “Just meet them at the door and ask if there’s anything special their therapist needs to know,” I was told in the early days. The responsibility felt overwhelming. What if I forgot something and let a precious little one down? What if I said the wrong thing to a parent at their wit’s end? I was tempted to quit and return to my life of comfort. I couldn’t imagine why the organization had hired a 54-year old empty nester Mom instead of a hotshot 24-year old young professional with a much better memory and physical strength. It wasn’t until some of the children began grasping my wrinkled hand for comfort that I understood why I am here at this point in time. It is an honor and a privilege to get to be the person who reassures children and their families, if only long enough to offer a Capri Sun to an unhappy patient.

I cried during the interview recalling a time when a young person apologized profusely for having a seizure. I thought that would pretty much rule out any possibility of getting a call back but they hired me. So this job takes a tender heart, for sure. I am grateful to have this opportunity to be of service in small ways to families of fragile children as they move through this period of life.

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”

AUDREY HEPBURN

All I can say is that when a child with no other means of communication smiles at you with their eyes it becomes a heart connection. I have experienced no greater love than this. It is Thanksgiving and I am a new person and for that I thank God each and everyday.

Untidiness and Beauty

Well it’s been a week of angst and dread and anticipation so let me entertain you with a little story about how things went down on Cheeky Street.

It was last Sunday and I was in search of my authentic strand of pearls (because, like most women, I have numerous fake ones). I am not known for my tidiness or organization so off to my rat-packing closet I went with a mild sense of dread in pursuit of said strand. There is one box in the back of my closet that I have tossed sentimental things in over the years. I’ll throw something in and forget about it because going down the emotional rabbit hole of examining the contents in the box is often too much.

We have lived in our current home 10 years now so it’s been at least that long since I have taken a peak in the box in the back of my untidy closet. That’s how long it’s been since I have worn pearls. One has to ponder what kind of life, as a woman, one has been living that is completely devoid of my favorite jewel, but this is a subject for a different story.

It has been said that comedy is tragedy plus time. So astonishment must be something similar – in my view, it is struggle plus perspective.

I was not emotionally prepared for the 3 things I found in this box instead of my strand of pearls:

  1. A beautiful snapshot of my parents visiting me and my sister in our apartment for Thanksgiving over 30 years ago. They were struggling and, not coincidentally, they were the age I am now. In the thick of a midlife reckoning . Children raised, empty nest, left to stare at the walls or make deliberate choices about the rest of the journey, together or apart. It stunned me. A wound broke open I thought had long healed. There they were, the 2 people that raised me sitting on the cheap sofa my sister and I shared in our little apartment as young women. Mom and Dad, my biggest heroes. The perspective I have after 30 years of living my own struggles shone a bright light on the beauty of what they did for each other and our family. They stayed the course and supported each other until the end, as the vow “until death us do part” said. Holding that photo in my now wrinkled hands with the ability to put myself squarely in the middle of their struggle with some inkling of how it felt for them made me proud to be their seventh child. And proud to be made of the same persevering cloth they are.

2. A love letter from my husband written during a painful turning point in our marriage. How it is I determined that this letter, among several, should make its way into this particular box full of memories, I wish I knew. Juxtaposed with the photo of my parents at midlife, the letter marking a difficult crossroads with my husband pointed toward a theme: struggle and love are one. We lose our way occasionally and what is the one thing that helps guide us? Love. I started to think that maybe these memories were tucked away in a box in the back of my closet because I wasn’t ready to deal with the pain or release the anger and resentment. Thankfully, the past 5 years of my life have been largely about confronting resentment and finding ways to assemble some tools in my life for managing it. I am glad I have stayed in the struggle for my marriage and our family, just as my parents did. My husband and I have often joked we could write a book about the huge financial and career challenges life has thrown at us and from which we emerged stronger and happier. Maybe we will.

3. Finally and perhaps most preciously, several envelopes of my children’s baby teeth. I told my son last Sunday what I had found and he was completely grossed out. “Why would you save something so gross, Mom?” he wanted to know. I thought to myself, “because you were mine.” And that’s another paradox of love, isn’t it, particularly the love for a child. I kept these momentos of childhood to remember the passage of time and hold close to my heart the struggle and beauty of caring for something outside myself, in my case 2 somethings, my daughter and son.

“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed,” Antoine Exupery

I never found the damn pearls. I did find empirical evidence of a life well lived, however. If there were ever a question that my parents or husband loved me, all I had to do was look inside the untidy box at the back of my disorganized closet. Sometimes life reminds us there are more important things than possessions. I am completely grateful and surrender to those times.

My son brought this beautiful croton leaf inside yesterday afternoon as he was helping my husband rake. He knew I would cherish its beauty, something he has always known about his Mom. As the seasons change and he prepares to leave the nest for good, my heart aches once again with dread of the pain of seeing his empty room and missing the sound of his shotgun laugh. Maybe this leaf will go in the untidy box and one day many years from now I will rediscover it and remember yesterday with pride, love and a heart filled with gratitude for a life well lived.

The 7 Words That Changed My Life

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My husband and I recently did the Empty Nester basement purge thing and a newspaper article about a sad chapter in our lives resurfaced.  We found ourselves at the kitchen table talking to our children, now young adults, about the details of how things unfolded when they were too young to remember.  Their jaws slowly dropped as they listened 14 years later, taking in the previously hidden details of an underlying saga that spoiled our dream for them at that time. And almost ruined our marriage.  But we didn’t let it and that is the happy ending.

Once upon a time my husband and I had a dream to live a simple life in a nice midwestern small town with our 2 young children.  Our expectations were this change in location would provide time and space we yearned for to more fully appreciate our young family.  Before they were even born, we both agreed we would  “marinate our children in love.” This became challenging in our suburban setting with busy schedules and my husband’s nonstop work travel.  So we chose a radically different path, my husband even changed professions, and off we went to rural America to start over.

It should have been a warning sign to us when trouble seemed to be brewing from the beginning.  We purchased several acres of land that had been designated for part of a neighborhood development and then all hell broke  loose.  There was a dilapidated, decades-old dairy barn on the property that we viewed as “charming.”  This became one of the the ways the Homeowners Association began punishing us for daring to have a dream.  On numerous occasions, we were summoned to City condemnation hearings brought by the residents of the neighborhood we purchased the lots in.  They wanted this (justifiably historically significant to the area) “blighting eyesore” removed from their neighborhood.  We knew they just wanted to trouble, inconvenience and punish us for existing.

We tried an approach we were sure was a “win/win”:  we offered to donate the dairy barn and surrounding property to the City as a public park.  There was a Parks and Recreation Commission hearing for public comment and the neighbors showed up very angry.  They were not interested in creating a common, beautiful space for the community to enjoy.  Even though the country club lay directly behind them, they wanted more exclusivity and privacy.  They didn’t want to see children and families  from other neighborhoods enjoy their serene vistas.  In the end, the “park” became part of their privately owned space.

In hindsight, I wish I had had the time, resources and strength to have the dairy barn designated a Historic Site and restored it to its original beauty.  Instead, for our sanity, our family walked away and the City lost a beautiful treasure when the Homeowners Association got its way and tore it down, like it had never existed.  This isn’t a story about winning or losing, it’s a story about how small conflicts can often cloud the greater good. And what a pity that is.  A friend texted me the day the neighbors tore the beautiful barn down and I became nauseous at the thought of their celebration of their small victory.  A park dedicated to the memory of the designer of the barn would have been, from a historical preservation context, the wise thing to do.  Our family doesn’t live there any longer (and it’s just as well!) so I am not reminded on a daily basis of the punch in the gut.

Why is this story important or at all relevant today, in the midst of a global pandemic when people are suffering and struggling to keep the pieces of their lives together?  Why should anyone care?  One day, many years after the dairy barn debacle, my husband and I were struggling to begin again back in our hometown of Kansas City.  I had years of lingering resentment for what I believed I had endured during the small town years and he was exhausted from reinventing himself.  He looked at me one day and said something that suddenly made everything vividly clear for me:  “I love taking care of this family.”  In the midst of the struggle, I had started forming the belief that I was the only one “taking care of this family.”  We may have even divorced if my husband hadn’t uttered those 7 words at exactly the moment I needed to hear them.  That exchange has been my anchor every single day since.  Telling me he loves taking care of this family meant that had always been in his heart, even on the darkest days.  I had forgotten.  I allowed the outside forces that began needling away at us to toss me about.   I focused on the struggle instead of our basic strength, and that’s how I almost got lost forever.  Now my young adult kids will know how their parents persevered and weathered tough times:  because we love taking care of this family.

 

 

You Don’t Have To Drink Your Way Through Menopause

I woke up excited today.  It’s my 5th Sober Anniversary.  Reaching a point in my life where I am more excited about all the “yet to be’s” feels like an undeserved gift.  On this day each year, I remember my struggle  thinking about what a sober life might feel like,  because I knew that none of the dreams I had would be possible without shedding the lifestyle and path I was on.

First, I have to disclose that I had 2 glasses of wine – both on separate occasions – the summer of 2018.  My Sober Coach called it a “relapse,” which made me extremely angry for a long time because I didn’t want to throw away the previous 3 years of sobriety I had earned and start from scratch.  I couldn’t figure out an honest way to concede the setback while creating a plan to move forward.  The relapse shone a light on important things I wasn’t paying attention to: while sober, I wasn’t doing anything positive to sustain my health (my nutrition was way out of whack and I wasn’t exercising at all).  I was in a major midlife transition – getting one child off to college and supporting another one through the final push of high school – with  the dreaded, purposeless “empty nest” looming.  Fear and anxiety gripped me as I tried to envision a future self that was not primarily mothering.  What’s left, then?  I think all of these stressors combined led to the idea that drinking a little wine again was an okay choice for me.

Brene Brown brilliantly summarizes midlife in one word: an “unraveling.”  As a woman of this age, I am in a particularly vulnerable population susceptible to alcohol use disorder.  We’re the fastest growing group of alcoholics in America.  It takes effort to recognize the desire to pull away from the “rose all day” crowd – to create and stick to a plan to sustain an alcohol-free life.  I’m not blaming my relapse on menopause but I’m not lying when I tell you I was blindsighted by the upheaval all the changes I could not control presented in my life.  It was brutal.  And I’m still angry because I think women deserve to be better prepared for it than we are.  Looking back, I was searching for support, information and relief from the dozens of symptoms needling away at my quality of life for years.  I was offered mare piss and a few breathing exercises to get through it.  And many of my women contemporaries were drinking and divorcing their way through it.  How does one navigate the biggest storm of one’s life and stay sane, married and sober?  I had to create the plan that worked for me.

Here are the foundations of my personal recovery program:

Mindfulness  Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron’s “Getting Unstuck” work on learning to sit with discomfort to avoid reacting to painful situations with harmful habits. We have to learn not to run away from difficulty and instead allow it to transform us. The Buddhist paradox that by refraining from our urge to scratch/avoid suffering,  great peace and happiness is available. Discovering and harnessing the healing and calming power of your breathing can immediately turnaround an impulse to do or say something you will undoubtedly regret later.  Many people in recovery find this through a yoga practice.  

Connection Journalist Johann Hari Ted Talk, “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong. https://www.ted.com/talks/johann_hari_everything_you_think_you_know_about_addiction_is_wrong?language=en The story we have been told about addiction is wrong – people don’t choose drugs because the experience is pleasurable. Our nature as human beings is to bond and connect. People choose drugs primarily to numb their feelings of isolation. What if addiction isn’t about the chemical hooks but rather is an adaptation to your environment? He concludes that a core part of addiction is not being able to bear being present in your life without meaningful work and relationships.  The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety it is connection.  We find connection through purpose.  In midlife, this is a challenge for many.  I have had to soul search long hours and then ask for confidence to move forward and pursue what lights my soul on fire.  It is happening for me now but it wouldn’t have had I stayed on my couch just hoping my life would change.

Balance Nutritionist Jolene Park’s Ted Talk, “Gray Area Drinking”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvCMZBA7RiA You don’t have to hit “rock bottom” for drinking to be problematic. Gray Area Drinking pattern of stopping and re-starting drinking. More than likely, people who fall in this category are not talking about it with anybody. What leads people who fall into gray area drinking spectrum is untreated anxiety – the desire to reach for the “off switch” to release stress. “We don’t need any more cognitive hoops to jump through or ways to contort our willpower in an effort to fix ourselves. What we need is practical training on how to nourish our nervous system in a revolutionary and new way.” While Gray Area Drinkers may be able to stop drinking for prolonged periods of time, it is nearly impossible to sustain without understanding neurotransmitters and how to replenish them and nourish our nervous system in a comprehensive way. There are specific foods, movements and lifestyle practices that have very direct and immediate roles in boosting all our our neurotransmitters.  Completely by accident, I found a chiropractor who has become a friend and nutrition and mindset coach/ally.  She has given me tools to sustain this new path I am forging whereas before, there was no energy for anything other than the miserable status quo I had accepted because I was eating and thinking the wrong things. And allowing the wrong people room in my head.  I see Dr. Ang for regular chiropractic adjustments and get back far more in return.  She’s become part of my essential recovery team.

Support I found a Sober Coach with decades of experience and knowledge I talk to every Monday.  In fact, I am about to head to my driveway for a FaceTime with Mary in my Prius in a few moments.  She is so familiar with my history, challenges and personality, she has been able to provide the perfect amount of support, inspiration and camaraderie I need to stay the course in my sobriety journey.  Support looks different for everyone, there is absolutely no single way to find it.  Mary has helped me build self-confidence that menopause shattered and I am on a path of creating new friendships in a life I am deeply proud of and committed to.

In the early days of sobriety, I did not understand how to continue to fully give myself to my family to support their needs while having enough left over to navigate midlife.  I became exhausted, exasperated and hopeless.  In my “black and white” thinking, there wasn’t room for both so I just tried to keep neglecting and ignoring my own needs.  That’s where the trouble had begun so many years earlier.  Women are conditioned to believe it is selfish to put themselves first, and I think it was this internalized message that led to all the upheaval in my midlife transition to begin with.

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A pivotal moment for me in this journey was an afternoon yoga and journaling workshop I took with Becky Vollmer, founder of “You Are Not Stuck” (https://youarenotstuck.com).  She invited participants to go back as far as we wished in our lives and imagine ourselves at a time when we were genuinely excited about becoming who we most wanted to be.  What did that person look like, how did she feel about herself and her future, what kinds of choices did she make?  The experience transported me to my pre-teen years.  A kid with a pixie cut in overalls who wrote plays, rode a dirt bike and dreamed of one day raising a family and having a writing career.  I discovered she’s still there, she’s just been hidden by years of “shoulds” and fear of failure.

 Anybody who has been in recovery for more than a few months will tell you it is a remarkable journey back to one’s authentic self.  Aren’t you worth rediscovering?

 

 

Frankenstein Meets His Wife

Friends,

How are you coping with this uncertain time of forced family togetherness and COVID-19 fear?  At least once an hour, my phone lights up with yet another reported case or death from my area.  The daily news conferences from Washington do very little to calm my fears.  Like many of you, I imagine, I am coping by eating carbs, watching movies, walking my dog, feeding my family and occasionally going through an old box looking for a memory to make me laugh, sigh, feel grateful.  That’s where this gem of a story I penned as a child makes its appearance.  

Please indulge me by enjoying a little glimpse in the mind of a child writer and enjoy this delightful tale I hand wrote and stapled into booklet form.  I present to you for your reading entertainment, “Frankenstein Meets His Wife”:

Frankenstein was taking his pet boola boola for a walk one day and he saw the man that invented him so Frankenstein dicided (sic) to go and have a chat but it wasn’t the right man.  This made Frankenstein desperate.  He wanted to see Dr. Frankenstein.  Every day. when monster Frankenstein took his pet boola boola for a walk he would look for Dr. Frankenstein.

A year later Dr. Frankenstein was walking on the same path that monster Frankenstein was on, they both saw each other.  Dr. Frankenstein went to look at monster Frankenstein and monster Frankenstein said “you are the man I have been looking for, for one year. ”  “One year” said Dr. Frankenstein.  “Yes, one year,” monster Frankenstein said.  “Whatever for?” said Dr. Frankenstein.  “Well it gets lonely where I live,” said monster Frankenstein, “and since you did such a good job on me I thought maybe you would invent me a wife.”

“Well I’m very flattered,” said Dr. Frankenstein, “and since you’ve been looking for me for a year she will be ready in one month.”

The days were long for monster Frankenstein and a week went by like a century.  But finally the month was up.  Frankenstein the monster was so excited he bought her a dress.

Dr. Frankenstein called monster Frankenstein and said “today is the day.”  “Oh goody goody,” said monster Frankenstein.  So monster Frankenstein went to meet his wife.  “Her name is Bertha,” said Dr. Frankenstein.  “I love you,” monster Frankenstein said.  “Bertha, I love you,” said monster Frankenstein.  “Thank you,” Dr. Frankenstien said.

“Let’s go home, Bertha.  I have a surprize (sic) for you,” monster Frankenstein said.  When they got home, Bertha said, “Where is my surprize (sic)?”  “Right here,” said monster Frankenstein.  “Oh, I love it,” Bertha said.  “Go try it on,” monster Frankenstein said, “while I get out some beer.”

A few minutes later Bertha came back out and said, “Frankenstein, I only ask one favor.” “What is it, my dear?” Frankenstein said.  “Get me a new dress, this one is about 10 sizes too small!”

And thus ends the beginning of the passionate love affair between monster Frankenstein and his newly created wife, Bertha.  You are welcome.  

 

Thoughts About National Drink Wine Day

This morning as I was going through my Facebook memories (sadly the best compilation  I have of all my recent goings-on socially and in general), I saw a post from 2017 of myself drinking coffee as an act of rebellion against “National Drink Wine Day.”  “Bravo, You,” I said to myself, for I have achieved nothing in my life that didn’t include a little sense of rebellion against authority, status quo, ridiculousness.  What surprised me after a quick Google search was that 3 years later “National Drink Wine Day” is still a thing in America.  This, in spite of the fact that American women age 40 and older are the fastest growing group of alcoholics (or persons with alcohol use disorder, if you prefer) in our country today.  Right along with alcohol use disorder rates of liver disease, cancer and heart disease are rising because of the poisonous levels of toxins we barrage our bodies with when we drink alcohol.  But sure, let’s celebrate that “win” and Rose all day. Or not.

I’m not bashing the right of people to enjoy their wine whenever they want.  Lord knows, struggling to stay sober for the past years, I have learned to accept that people will continue to drink in spite of evidence it is bad for them, just like smoking.  It’s the cultural acceptance of self-sabotage that I don’t accept, hence these brief thoughts from a Woman in Recovery on a national day designated to celebrate what for many of us is simply a sad existence.

Like any revolution, great thinkers and role models are emerging from the non-drinking community.  I am reading Holly Whitaker’s “Quit Like a Woman:  The Radical Choice To Not Drink In a Culture Obsessed With Alcohol” currently.  She compares today’s rising rates of alcohol abusers (binge drinking among women is at an all time high) to the era when Big Tobacco spent massive amounts of advertising dollars to convince consumers cigarette smoking was a safe, adventurous and romantic complement to anyone living a full life.  Our collective thinking has come very far since the “Don Draper”Mad Men  days where drinking and smoking throughout the business day were considered well-deserved rewards for hard work.  Yet alcohol continues to hold a powerful grip on so many of us it is considered a “radical choice” not to drink these days.

I will tell you this, if I had not stopped drinking a bottle of red wine every single day in 2015, I would not have the great life I have today, and I am 100 percent confident my family would not be anywhere near the great shape they are in.  People who quit drinking, even for a couple of weeks, rave about the better sleep and greater clarity they have after just a short time changing their habits.  All I am saying is, I hope you will consider that there are big companies that do not have your best interests at heart that are benefiting from this campaign to celebrate drinking alcohol.  And you don’t have to accept that.  My life is proof of that.  Today I have stronger friendships and a far greater day to day existence that a few years ago when I was “life of the party.”

No substance can substitute a real life, from the highs to the lows.  And it may surprise you to know that, without alcohol doing a number on my blood sugar and energy levels everyday, I am able to think more clearly, stepping back before reacting to everything I experience, and I certainly bounce back from bad days much faster than I did in my drinking days.  I’m not celebrating “National Drink Wine Day” because I have found a much better way to live without wine and I love my life now.

If you care to join me, I’ll be having a quiet cappuccino this afternoon in a warm and sunny spot to celebrate the Resistance to National Drink Wine Day.  All the cool kids are sober.

This Fortress of Mine Called Daughter

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I remember the day, at only 5 months old, you were sitting on the kitchen counter in your bouncy seat and forming the word “Mama!” with your determined little face.  Nobody believed me when I later bragged about this but you and I knew and that was all that mattered.

You became the little girl who always wanted to help Mommy.  You took my chicken-scrawled grocery lists and carefully and lovingly re-wrote them before heading out to Hy-Vee on a quest for Gogurt and bagels.

You were also fond of declarative statements.  Many of them notable.  As a toddler, when your Daddy would walk in from work and ask you how your day had been, you usually responded, “I didn’t have a day!” with great conviction.  With Mom, your declarations were often about really important things you needed to do, like the day you came to me and said, “I want to dance!”.  Thus began one of many journeys led by your indomitable spirit.

You were always very quick to pick up on stress or tension in the house and, in your own loving way, offered help.  At only age 9, when Mom and Dad were very burdened with the weight of selling our dream house and picking up roots to the unknown, you quietly and efficiently followed the “Staging Lady” from room to room in our beautiful house and took careful notes about the work to be done.  That’s who you are, Dear Girl, the one who can take up the sword and fight for your loved ones when they need it most and without expecting anything in return.  This past Easter, when your teenaged brother was grieving terribly the death of a friend, you lightened everybody’s load with your surprise visit from college.  You matter-of-factly parked your car in the driveway and walked up to me, I’ll never forget how I was planting begonias to mark and remember Mario’s friend.  Your presence is a fortress to those in need, My Dear. You marched right into the house and just quietly began doing normal things but in a way your family knew you were there to support us in our time of need.

And most recently, Sweet Girl, you gave your Momma a weighted blanket for Christmas.  I am not surprised you were the one who listened to me and addressed this need so lovingly.  You know I am not bold like you are yet this does not disappoint or frighten you and how I love you for it.

Now you are on the brink of adulthood and life is showing your Dad and me you are prepared.  I will spend the rest of my days in gratitude for the wonder that is you, my precious Isabella Bernadette.  Your Grandpa summed you up correctly at a very young age and it is to our complete delight watching his prediction unfold.  He said, “That little girl is going to call the shots every step of the way.” And you have and we hope you always will.  I love you, Daughter.

I Just Want My Plush Towel and Other Holiday Reflections

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It’s been awhile.  The last time I wrote was last May as my son was leaving the house to finish his senior year of High School.  A pretty big day at our house and any parent’s.  It took me a few months to get my grounding after that day.  Going from 18 continuous years of round the clock parenting to a sudden and immediate “layoff” is quite a jolt and I was terrified I might never regain a sense of purpose.  So I found a volunteer gig and a new mantra, something like, “Guide Me,” grounding words I would repeat throughout the day every time I felt a new wave of panic rising.

Where to begin?  When you have poured your heart and soul into two human beings who are ready to launch into the world and the thought of moving forward terrifies you, how do you start?  Fortunately, I have had really good experiences volunteering in the past and it is something I am comfortable doing and my husband was supportive of me doing instead of looking for a paying job right away.  So I had a wonderful summer helping a local rehabilitative organization as a volunteer at a summer camp for developmentally challenged adolescents build executive functioning skills.  Ability KC is one of my favorite places because they support individuals and families of all ages and abilities to recover from debilitating injuries or conditions and regain strength and resilience.  As a person in recovery from alcohol addiction, building resilience is something I feel very passionate about.  So I started taking steps forward in my life and trusted God and the Universe to “Guide Me.”

Summer went by quickly and I built connections with the darling camp kids.  I learned massive amounts from the 20- and 30- something physical and occupational therapists running the camp.  I found that, as always, I had been planted in exactly the right place at the right time with the right people working for the right purpose.  Continuing with this trust and purpose, somehow I gradually awakened to the next opportunity in my “Life After Mom” journey.  I knew I wanted to work with kids on the brink of young adulthood who needed extra support.  So I began applying for jobs with local school districts as a Special Education Paraprofessional.  What luck and joy I had when a local middle school contacted me for an interview in early August.  I am now employed there and part of another team of inspiring individuals I am learning so much from.  And I have the privilege to connect with young people on a daily basis, meeting them where they are and trying my best to support and help them learn.  I am beyond grateful to have this new purpose in my life.

Recently, when strolling the bathroom aisle at Kohl’s, I realized I hadn’t given myself the luxury of a really thirsty and plush bath towel in many years.  So I bought 2 cream colored ones, something a Mom knows never to do with kids around because they’d be destroyed in days.  Another thing about the plush towels:  I just want them for myself but I haven’t explicitly communicated this to my husband.  Occasionally, in his morning haze and rush to work, he grabs one and I find myself feeling territorial and angry – about a towel!  Here’s my takeaway from the hidden meaning behind a newly liberated Mom and her plush towel anger issues:  it’s a small luxury just for me that I am not expected to share with anyone.  Ready to laugh out loud?  After 21 years of nurturing my family, I just want to be asked if they can use my plush towel!  I feel ridiculous about all the power I have given these towels in my psychological life and my family doesn’t even know it!

Moving forward in life after full-time parenting requires a sense of humor.  I appreciate the sense of belonging and acceptance I have at the middle school where I am working.  It’s building my skills, resilience and confidence.  No matter what age, we all need each other to build strength.  And plush towels.  We all need at least one just for ourselves.

Happy Holidays, friends, and may 2020 bring you an abundance of joy, new adventures and plush towels.

Overnight Parental Metamorphosis

 

My son, my second child, just left the house for his Senior Year of High School finals.  I know this day is a major rite of passage.  So I go to my basement and retrieve a few fragments of his and his sister’s childhood from the big box of grade school papers I have kept all these years.  I am that Mom.  The one who frames art projects and puts every lost tooth in a ziplock bag.  These memories are my treasures.

You don’t get to choose many of the experiences your children will have outside your four walls and nothing prepares you for the disappointments the world will heap upon them – you can only hope that your love will be the cushion your child needs to bounce back and return to the world of unexpected experiences the following day.

As a child, Motherhood and writing were my true callings.  I wrote plays and each afternoon baked goodies in my Easy Bake oven before picking my imaginary kids up on my bicycle riding up and down my long driveway and talking to them.  As an adult, my life has luckily pretty much mirrored what I always dreamed and imagined motherhood would be.  Except the joy I have felt over the beauty of children’s innocence and unfaltering love was deeper than anything I had ever experienced.  And the anguish over not being able to solve a child’s heartache with a bowl of ice cream and a hug more harsh than any adult experience I had ever known.

The most unexpected delight from mothering a girl and a boy has been the gift of being the guardian of the gentle unfolding of their hearts in this world.  Being a parent at our house has often meant inviting the outside world to our table.  The way my children embraced our Little Brother when we were matched as a Family in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program was loving and open-hearted.  They were open and accepting of the experience and shared our abundance of love, food, toys and fun with him without urging by me or their Dad.  And the outside adventures their hearts led our family to were beyond any planned playdate or experience I could have ever mapped out.  When our daughter told us at age 8 she wanted to be a competitive cheerleader, we set off on 2 years of driving hundreds of miles each week and thousands of 8-counts and sassy faces and moves to impress judges at competitions.  She already had grit, determination and focus.  The competitive sport just gave her an outlet, and her overwhelmed Mom was grateful for that.

My husband will faint in disbelief when he reads this, but I am grateful to have lived in the country on 32 acres for part of our kids’ childhood, in particular, the formative part.  They learned how to occupy themselves on long, windy, hot summer days without constant monitoring or activities.  Families enjoyed campfires, storytelling and music in the evenings and our son became a huge fan of the annual music festival that took place 1 mile from our back door.  To this day, his favorite smell is smoke from a campfire and as a young man, our house has become the headquarters for his friends to linger, laugh and talk into the night by a simple campfire.  Our daughter honed her writing skills and our many 8-hour car trips to visit family in St. Louis were a great source of inspiration.  Here she writes about the “Throwing Up Spring Break” of 2006 which was preceded by the “greatest day” of our 6-year-old son’s life at Disney on Ice.

Although today officially marks a transition from parenting children to young adults, and my heart is somewhat tender with wistful memories of those early days, I look forward to the next chapter – one that has already begun with my daughter – of witnessing, supporting, validating and loving the young adults my children become.

These 2 are my treasures and they belong to the world now, not me.  That’s both the most painful and proud reality of parenting:  these children gifted to us are born to fly.  Instead of planning the next week to make sure I am available for sporting events or other activities they love, I am, even as I write this, officially promoted to Witness.  I don’t have to referee their journey anymore.  Another Mom recently said, “You go from parent to consultant overnight.”  It might take me a few boxes of tissue to make the transition.  Each tear will be worth it.

Now I get to see who they invite to our table.

When Our Time Was Our Time

I’ve been in a “season of remembering” and feeling grateful lately, after a cold, harsh winter and a major health setback.  During this time, I have had countless ideas for blog posts but we are experiencing a time in our family when all computers are nearly dead and also I need to learn much more about technology than I want in order to reach the “next level” of blog writing.  So the ideas and creative impulses come and go and I have done nothing.

Until this morning, looking out at the lovely grass and listening to the birds as Spring begins to unfold, I started remembering how connected our family had the privilege of being to the seasons when my kids were young.  My husband and I intentionally semi-stepped off the grid of urban life and uprooted our young family from the city to a country setting.  At the time, all I can remember is wanting to have a simpler life with fewer distractions and outside intrusions but we didn’t have many specific ideas about what our “country life” would feel like beyond that.  The lessons came for us, many of them surprisingly difficult and unpleasant, yet we know, looking back, it was absolutely the right choice to make for our children.

This morning I started remembering all the unstructured, wild fun we had together when we lived in the country.  We’d take adventurous walks on our land and the kids would get filthy dirty without worrying about being clean or “ready” for the next obligation on our busy calendar because there wasn’t much of a calendar to worry about at all.  Just time, nature, freedom, each other, the weather, the critters, and the expectations of enjoying one carefree day after the next.  So I guess what I am saying is country life gave our family a framework we were craving that didn’t exist in a city:  some land, some time, some freedom – to enjoy life with youngsters unbothered by schedules and timetables and expectations.  That’s exactly, as it turns out, what we all had.  Let me tell you in one word what that life felt like:  glorious.  It took returning to the city and hearing from parents we must contact the “nanny” to coordinate “play date” schedules for me to appreciate how golden our lives in the country had been.  It was isolating at times and occasionally boredom set in.  But all you had to do was wait for the next spectacular sunset or sunrise to unfold and rest beneath the quiet (unless it was tornado season) heavens to remember what we had was very special.

I recently heard my daughter describe in great detail what the sky looked and felt like out in the country minutes before a big storm.  That memory is part of her and it will stay with her for life.  Unless you have spent a considerable amount of time on the prairie and its open skies, you’ll never understand what she meant when she told her friend about that sudden quiet, green-turning-to-black sky that happens right before a big storm.  We took shelter during those times in our basement and in each other.  We weren’t worried about which activities might be cancelled because of the inconvenience of the weather.  The weather was part of our lived experience.

As a Mother, your kids reach college age and you might start looking back to reassure yourself you gave them what they needed.  I am fortunate that I didn’t have to worry about much beyond fun and safe experiences on our land when they were little.  And I can already see those early years have shaped the young adults they have become.  After all, it takes a lot of mud puddles and unstructured play to build a competent adult.  Thank goodness we had plenty.